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History and Its Limits: Human, Animal, Violence

Overview

Dominick LaCapra's History and Its Limits articulates the relations among intellectual history, cultural history, and critical theory, examining the recent rise of "Practice Theory" and probing the limitations of prevalent forms of humanism. LaCapra focuses on the problem of understanding extreme cases, specifically events and experiences involving violence and victimization. He asks how historians treat and are simultaneously implicated in the traumatic processes they attempt to represent. In addressing these ...

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Overview

Dominick LaCapra's History and Its Limits articulates the relations among intellectual history, cultural history, and critical theory, examining the recent rise of "Practice Theory" and probing the limitations of prevalent forms of humanism. LaCapra focuses on the problem of understanding extreme cases, specifically events and experiences involving violence and victimization. He asks how historians treat and are simultaneously implicated in the traumatic processes they attempt to represent. In addressing these questions, he also investigates violence's impact on various types of writing and establishes a distinctive role for critical theory in the face of an insufficiently discriminating aesthetic of the sublime (often unreflectively amalgamated with the uncanny).

In History and Its Limits, LaCapra inquires into the related phenomenon of a turn to the "postsecular," even the messianic or the miraculous, in recent theoretical discussions of extreme events by such prominent figures as Giorgio Agamben, Eric L. Santner, and Slavoj Zizek. In a related vein, he discusses Martin Heidegger's evocative, if not enchanting, understanding of "The Origin of the Work of Art." LaCapra subjects to critical scrutiny the sometimes internally divided way in which violence has been valorized in sacrificial, regenerative, or redemptive terms by a series of important modern intellectuals on both the far right and the far left, including Georges Sorel, the early Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille, Frantz Fanon, and Ernst Jünger.

Violence and victimization are prominent in the relation between the human and the animal. LaCapra questions prevalent anthropocentrism (evident even in theorists of the "posthuman") and the long-standing quest for a decisive criterion separating or dividing the human from the animal. LaCapra regards this attempt to fix the difference as misguided and potentially dangerous because it renders insufficiently problematic the manner in which humans treat other animals and interact with the environment.

In raising the issue of desirable transformations in modernity, History and Its Limits examines the legitimacy of normative limits necessary for life in common and explores the disconcerting role of transgressive initiatives beyond limits (including limits blocking the recognition that humans are themselves animals).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dominick LaCapra is a real metahistorian, constantly surveying the borders between history and the new topics arising on history's confines. No one is better informed in this field and no one is more solicitous of history's well-being. In this book, LaCapra shows the centrality of history to the other human and social sciences and demonstrates clearly the function of sea anchor which historical knowledge fulfills in secular culture."—Hayden White. Presidential Professor of Historical Studies, Emeritus, University of California, and Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

"In History and Its Limits, Dominick LaCapra addresses some of the most important issues facing intellectual and cultural historians today (our understanding of violence, current trends in animal studies, and the place of theory in history) and does so in a way that is provocative, engaging, and instructive. The essays are far ranging but LaCapra's insights are exact and he proves a sure guide through complex ethical terrain. History and Its Limits is a must-read for current and aspiring intellectual and cultural historians as well as all those with an interest in critical inquiry."—Ethan Kleinberg, Wesleyan University, author of Generation Existential: Heidegger's Philosophy in France, 1927-1961

"In his latest work, Dominick LaCapra renews his ongoing intellectual projects, including reflections on the relationship between critical theory and historiography, trauma in postsecular societies, human-animal relations, and analyses of new trends in criticism represented by Alain Badiou and Giorgo Agamben, among others. His sheer breadth of knowledge, intellectual versatility, generosity, and lucidity of mind solidifies his position as one of the most brilliant voices in contemporary criticism."—Carolyn J. Dean, Brown University

"There is no more fertile, more original, more erudite, and more profound theorist of intellectual history than Dominick LaCapra. None of his books so impressively exemplifies the range of his historical thought as this one. There is no better demonstration of the powers of contemporary intellectual history than History and Its Limits."—Frank Ankersmit, University of Groningen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801475153
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2009
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Dominick LaCapra is Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies and Professor of History and Comparative Literature at Cornell University.

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